Thursday, May 14, 2015

How to make a blank hardcover book, part 1

A few years ago, I went to a system where I write down all of the things that I am thinking about, or trying to remember, in a single hardcover blank book. So everything is arranged chronologically; I can usually remember when I was thinking about or working on something, and from that find my way back to it.

I've found since then that a book of about 200 pages will last me about 18 months. I am nearing the end of the second volume, and will need a new one soon.

Both of my first two blank books were handmade (by me), following the instructions in the Family Creative Workshop craft encyclopedia (from the 1970's) article on Bookbinding. I've looked around recently, but I haven't found very similar instructions online. That means its my turn, I guess. (I always appreciate when others have created well-written instructions, so I don't have to.) I am working from memory and experience here, because I no longer have the book that I learned from, so any errors in these instructions are my own.

So, Step 1:  Obtain paper for the blank pages. I prefer older blank paper, in the standard 8.5x11 inch size. This time I gleaned almost fifty sheets of nearly-blank sample papers from old graphic design magazines. The rest is grayish paper that my husband doesn't like.

Step 2:  Fold signatures.  Take six to eight sheets at a time, and fold them in half the short way. (Real paperworkers have a piece of rounded bone to flatten the fold well; I use a knitting needle.) This makes one signature.

Step 3:  Make sewing holes. First, you should know that there are two main ways of internally supporting the pages:  the first is with several narrow cords that all the signatures are sewn to; the other is with a smaller number of tapes. With cords, there is one sewing hole per cord. With tapes, there is a sewing hole on each side of each tape, plus (I think) an extra hole at each end of the signature. I use five cords, where each cord is a braid of linen or cotton string, so I have to make five holes. I make a template from scrap card stock that is the same length as the signature height, because the holes need to line up across signatures. Using the template, I pierce sewing holes in each signature in the crease (through all the sheets) with an awl; a large, sharp sewing needle would also work.

Step 4:  Make cords (if needed). As I said above, I braid thin linen or cotton string or yarn for the cords. Cotton has in the past proven not quite durable enough for the abuse that I put my books through, so I am using linen this time. Each cord needs to be long enough to reach around the spine of the book, with about three inches more at each end for gluing to the cover boards. Better too long than too short, at this point.

Step 5:  Improvise sewing frame, and hang cords/tapes. The frame holds the cords in place while the signatures are sewn to them. So there needs to be something to hang the cords from, something to attach the lower ends of the cords to, and something to support the signatures against the cords as the signatures are stacked and sewn. And your hands need to be able to get at both the front and the insides of the signatures. Previously, I built a frame with a platform, two sticks going up, a dowel bridging the sticks, and holes in the platform for the cords to go down into (with the cords secured underneath). This time, I took a child's step stool, turned it upside down, duct taped a dowel across the front legs, and used the underside of the step as the platform. I had to tie string to some of the cords to make them long enough to be hung this way, and then I duct taped the lower ends to the step. This worked well enough; the sewing goes quickly.

Step 6:  Sew signatures to cords. Waxed linen thread is preferred for this step; I used thin linen yarn...but I forgot to wax it this time. If I had remembered, I would have used an old candle to wax it as I went. Knot the end of the thread. Place the spine of the first signature against the cords. The needle goes into the first hole, along the inside of the fold, out the second hole, loop around the cord, back in the second hole, along the inside of the fold to the third hole, out the third hole, loop around the cord, the cord...and so on until the last hole, where it just comes out. Now put the next signature on top of the first one, and put the needle into the hole directly above the last hole stitched. Then the same pattern:  along the inside of the fold, out the hole, around the cord, back in, and along the inside to the next hole.

When you get to the last hole, bring the needle out. Now the thread needs to be brought down to catch the first signature, so that they are connected. The first time, the thread is brought down to loop around the knot. For the rest of the signatures, the needle comes down, behind the thread between the two previous signatures, coming out at the page edges, and up again to start a new signature. This is called a kettle stitch, if you want to look it up.

For tapes, the sewing is similar, but instead of looping around the tape, the needle comes out of the hole on one side of the tape, and back in through the hole on the other side.

When your thread runs out, tie a new length to it, with the knot falling inside the fold of a signature.

When all the signatures are sewn together, come out the last hole and make a knot.  Loosen the cords/tapes from the frame.

Step 7:  Gluing the "text block".  Put the block of sewn signatures between two scrap boards, with almost 1/4 inch of the spine and the ends of the cords protruding. Get the block as well lined up as you can before clamping the boards together, or putting it all in a vise. Brush a coat of white glue (I used Mod Podge this time because it is what I had on hand) over the folds of the signatures, and over the stitching. With a hammer, gently beat the glue into the spine, gradually rounding over the long edges of the spine to make the "shoulders" of the book. Put another coat of white glue over the spine. Leave it clamped while it dries.

That is where I am so far. The next step is to get the boards and covering material for the cover, which I will be looking out for on my next thrifting expedition this weekend. Old three-ring binders are a good source of the kind of hard cardboard that goes inside a book cover. I strongly prefer leather for the covering material. The other materials I can improvise from what I have.

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